Lessons from the past

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - >> Ge­orgie Ann Geyer

Afterthoughts about our new pres­i­dent-elect — and our­selves:

Elec­tion Day evening, as it slowly, state by state, be­came ob­vi­ous that Don­ald J. Trump was be­ing elected pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica, my thoughts kept go­ing back to a meet­ing on glob­al­iza­tion about two years ago at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute here in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

Even though it’s a con­ser­va­tive in­sti­tu­tion, the AEI had in­vited sev­eral lib­eral glob­al­iza­tion en­thu­si­asts that day, and they were ju­bi­lant: Free trade among the na­tions of the world had al­ready made poor peo­ple all over the world more pros­per­ous! Glob­al­iza­tion would strengthen the web of hu­man hope from Rwanda to Lux­em­bourg to Burma! Glob­al­iza­tion was right!

In the ques­tion-and-an­swer pe­riod, I humbly chal­lenged: And what would hap­pen to the steel­worker in Gary, In­di­ana, close to my beloved home­town of Chicago, when his job and his ca­pac­ity to sup­port his fam­ily had dis­ap­peared to God-knows-where?

Snick­er­ing smiles greeted me. The girl (me) ob­vi­ously didn’t un­der­stand. The girl (me, again) stood on the brink of a won­drous new world and just didn’t “get it.”

“Why, they will sim­ply find jobs in the ser­vice in­dus­try,” one leader of the group an­swered im­pa­tiently. We moved on.

I re­mained un­able to see that steel­worker from Gary work­ing as a concierge at an up­scale ur­ban ho­tel, but de­cided to stop talk­ing.

An­other story that kept com­ing up in my mind Tues­day night oc­curred one day on the “al­ti­plano” or high plain of Bo­livia 25 years ago, when I was liv­ing in Peru as a for­eign correspondent. I adored the ex­quis­ite scenery up there at 14,000 feet. I re­spected the Quechua and Ay­mara In­di­ans, de­scen­dants of the bril­liantly ad­vanced Inca em­pire, de­stroyed when the vo­ra­cious Spa­niards in­vaded in the 16th cen­tury.

But, although I prided my­self on be­ing racially and eth­ni­cally un­prej­u­diced, I hon­estly never un­der­stood these In­di­ans. Their faces were square and strong, but im­pla­ca­bly im­pas­sive. In all my months liv­ing there, I never saw a smile or even the sug­ges­tion of any fa­cial ex­pres­sion. I spoke flu­ent Span­ish, but they spoke the In­dian lan­guages and never re­sponded to my at­tempts to en­gage them.

Then one day, I was driv­ing across the al­ti­plano with a Bo­li­vian an­thro­pol­o­gist who had been able to break through their ancient walls of si­lence. At one spot, as he talked with them, I spon­ta­neously asked him to ask them what -- above any­thing -- they wanted, from their gov­ern­ment and from their fel­low non-In­dian Bo­li­vians. Even­tu­ally he came back with an an­swer.

I was first amazed and then deeply dis­turbed. Be­cause they were so very dif­fer­ent, I had as­sumed they would want bet­ter food, warmer houses, per­haps education for their chil­dren. But dig­nity? I left the al­ti­plano that day deeply ashamed of my­self for not un­der­stand­ing this.

To­day, as we face a Don­ald J. Trump presidency, I think of these ex­pe­ri­ences as lessons.

• The first one, cen­tered around glob­al­iza­tion, was a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of the lack of public con­cern for those Amer­i­cans in be­tween the two coasts. Even when a Prince­ton Univer­sity paper showed mid­dle-aged Amer­i­can white men dy­ing at an ab­nor­mally in­creas­ing rate last year (ap­par­ently from drugs, al­co­hol and de­pres­sion), the story made the pa­pers briefly -- and then dis­ap­peared. Bo-ring!

• The sec­ond ex­am­ple, cen­tered around the stolid and seem­ingly un­know­able Ay­maras in far­away Bo­livia, was the most dra­matic les­son I per­son­ally have had of the need for dig­nity among ALL peo­ples. How could we not know that it was also to be found in the rust belts of Penn­syl­va­nia or the Garys of In­di­ana?

Please don’t tell me that the an­swer to all of this is to be found in “the me­dia.” Please don’t tell me that it was jour­nal­ists who kept it from you.

All we can do now is be­gin think­ing about all of this -- se­ri­ously, for a change, and hope that The Don­ald will rise to the oc­ca­sion. We must also, by the way, ex­em­plify in our own lives the cul­tured, cul­ti­vated na­tion we want to have.

Ge­orgie Anne Geyer has been a for­eign correspondent and com­men­ta­tor on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_ geyer@juno.com.

Ge­orgie Anne Geyer Colum­nist

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